ARCTIC OCEAN — It may be the last great unnavigated frontier on our planet
This summer a team of scientists and students will attempt to change that as they offer the world a real-time dramatic view of what it’s like to travel through the Arctic Ocean and the Northwest Passage.
Starting Aug. 23, the Inner Space Center at the University of Rhode Island will be part of the 22-day Northwest Passage Project research expedition. A team of scientists, students and a professional film crew will be aboard the vessel Akademik Ioffe to give museums, classrooms and citizen scientists worldwide an opportunity to explore the changing Arctic Ocean in real time via a series of live, interactive broadcasts.
Supported by marine partner One Ocean Expeditions, the team aboard the Akademik Ioffe will conduct research to better understand climate change effects by collecting water, ice and air samples. The goal is to document the impact that climate change is having on the environment and biodiversity in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
The interactive broadcasts from the Arctic Ocean will include several firsts, including the first use of an autonomous underwater vehicle to collect information about ocean water. The team plans to use an underwater glider — named after aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart — to collect information about water in the Northwest Passage. The glider will be deployed for more than 10 days and will focus on water column measurement of temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen, among other traits, which will offer scientists detailed information on currents, water masses and biology.
Another first: Facebook Live broadcasts from the Arctic Ocean. Special interactive broadcasts will be beamed via the Inner Space Center to three science museums: the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington; the Exploratorium in San Francisco; and the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. A 4K television documentary will be produced by the film company David Clark Inc. for release in 2019.
Live interactive broadcasts throughout the expedition will use the Inner Space Center’s telepresence technology and video production facility. The team will create pre-expedition webinars that will be archived online for public viewing to prepare students for research experiences.
The center will also produce daily video blasts using footage supplied by onboard filmmakers. These video blasts will be used during broadcasts and live interactions with partner sites and will be available on the center’s YouTube channel. The center will also have access to a live satellite link so that audiences can communicate with shipboard scientists and students.
“It is important for people everywhere on Earth to understand how this region affects all citizens,” said Gail Scowcroft, principal investigator and project director for the Northwest Passage Project. Not only will the project’s scientists engage a group of university students in hands-on research, diverse audiences around the world will be reached through real-time interactions from sea, she said.
“[The Northwest Passage Project] will provide a visually stunning and historically poignant platform from which diverse audiences will experience this innovative expedition,” she said.
The project will also contribute to understanding of the maritime history of the Northwest Passage, the role of the Inuit people in Arctic history, the effects of climate change on indigenous populations, the geopolitics of a waterway confronted with threats from resource extraction, increased shipping commerce and pollution.
Along with Canadian and U.S. scientists, researchers and graduate students, six teams of high school teachers and students will be in residence in the mission control facility at the Inner Space Center during the first week of the expedition and will be able to interact directly with the participants at sea.
The Akademik Ioffe will depart Resolute Bay, Nunavut, on Aug. 23, travel south and west to Cambridge Bay via Bellot Strait, then return to Lancaster Sound and Pond Inlet before travelling down the east side of Baffin Island — the fifth largest island in the world. The expedition will end in the city of Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Sept. 13.